A FORGOTTEN Japanese Garden in Otley has been brought to life again in these photographs from the town's museum.

The exotic garden, complete with actors and actresses who were paid to roam the grounds dressed in Japanese costumes, was once very popular.

But the attraction, which was part of a larger complex financed by philanthropist Henry Dacre, fell out of use and into abandonment.

Jill Allman, from Otley Museum, describes the history of the venture and its ultimate sad fate as the site for a scrap yard.

She said: "In 1890 Henry Dacre a local solicitor and philanthropist formed a brass band, the practice sessions being held in his house “Hawthornden” on Bradford Road. As the band grew in popularity the house became inadequate and practice continued in a hay barn.

"In 1895 Mr Dacre obtained a site at the back of the Parish Church. Here he financed the building, designed by Alfred Marshall, of a Concert Hall, a Recreation hall and a Japanese garden. The idea was to promote “Self -culture, physical, mental and moral”

"The Recreation Hall housed a reading room with a library, tea-room, smoking room and a kitchen providing refreshments, but no alcohol was allowed on the site. There was a gym, club rooms for meetings, a dark room for photography and bathing facilities. Outside there was a running track. Members could join a cycling and rambling clubs along with a rifle range.

"The Concert Hall, renamed the Queen’s Hall in 1897 to mark the golden jubilee, was used for concerts, lectures, plays, operettas, social evenings and dances.

"The grounds were laid out in Japanese style which was very much in vogue at that time. The garden was set out to mimic in miniature the natural world of mountains, rivers and waterfalls in a limited space using winding paths with small shrubs, trees and grasses rather than the large flowering displays of the Victorian age.

"People were employed to dress in traditional Japanese costume and stroll around the garden. Summer pageants and outdoor concerts took place and there was a winter garden with a skating rink. The bandstand held centre stage.

"Every year there was an annual carriage drive to local beauty spots. In 1901 some eighty members left Otley in wagonettes to head for Brimham Rocks via Harrogate. The twenty strong band went by train and char-a-banc meeting them for lunch. The journey back was hampered by wet weather and they arrived back in Otley at midnight.

"The whole idea was very popular with opening hours of 8am to 10pm daily. Members could join for a charge of 2 shillings a quarter or guests could pay 2d. Pedestrians entered by Church Lane, (the doorway is still visible.) People arriving by horse and carriage entered via Burras Lane.

"The philanthropic ideas of Henry Dacre certainly proved beneficial to the people of Otley but despite its popularity the venture failed to make a profit. The constant financial investment from Henry Dacre kept the business running but it ceased abruptly when he died suddenly of a heart attack in 1913 aged 55 years.

"His wife had died in 1909 and they had no children. The Hawthorden Band had developed into a Military Band but it ceased to exist in 1904.

"Support dwindled and with the onset of World War 1 in 1914 the whole project ceased. An effort was made to re-establish the venture after the war but by the start of the Second World War the buildings and garden had fallen into disrepair and the whole site was abandoned.

"In the 1950’s and 60’s the site was used as a warehouse and later as a scrapyard. All signs of Henry Dacre have gone."

When the philanthropist died the Wharfedale Observer recorded: "By the death of Mr Henry Dacre, which occurred early on Thursday morning, Otley has lost one of its best known townsmen. Mr Dacre, who was in practice as a solicitor, was in the town as usual and in the evening, celebrated his birthday by entertaining a few friends at his residence. After dinner he was taken ill, and died about 2.30am. Mr Dacre will be best remembered for the establishment of the Recreation Hall, the foundation stones of which were laid in 1895."